The Connaught Rangers (The Devil’s Own) was an Irish line infantry regiment of the British Army originally raised in 1793 as the 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers), which gained a reputation both for indiscipline and for its prowess as shock troops and streetfighters with the bayonet while serving under the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War in Spain.
James Daly, a native of Co Westmeath, in what was then British-ruled Ireland, was a private in the Connaught Rangers. Joining the British army for the proverbial “shilling a day” was the escape route from poverty for tens of thousands of Irishmen. They fought in every corner of the empire, subduing the natives and imposing the Pax Britannica.
On 28 June 1920, Daly and the rest of his battalion were stationed at Jullundur, near Amritsar, in British India. The infamous Massacre of Amritsar by British troops had taken place only a short time before. The area was seething with nationalist anger, and the soldiers of the Connaught Rangers were an important part of the British garrison. There is little indication of what Daly and his colleagues thought about the massacre. But it would appear they were more concerned with events at home in Ireland.
Within a few months the IRA was launching ambushes on British troops and policemen across the country. It is said that one of the Connaught Rangers, home on holidays from India, was attending a football match when he was held up and searched by British troops. As the conflict escalated reports of atrocities by British forces began to reach the Connaught Rangers camp at Jullundur. The precise spark for what happened next is still debated by historians. Some suggest it was a series of attacks by the irregular British forces, known as Black and Tans, which infuriated Daly and his friends. Others believe it was a massacre by regular troops in Dublin which precipitated the crisis.
Private Daly and up to 150 other men refused to perform their military duties as a protest against the activities of the British Army in Ireland and staged a mutiny at Jullundur on the plains of the Punjab. A tricolour flag was raised and the mutineers named their HQ “Liberty Hall”, after the headquarters of James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army that rebelled against the British in 1916. On the following day, the mutineers sent two emissaries to a company of Connaught Rangers stationed at Solon, about twenty miles away in the foothills of the Himalayas. The soldiers there took up the protest as well and, like their counterparts at Jullundur, flew the tricolour of Ireland, wore Sinn Féin rosettes on their British Army uniforms and sang rebel songs.
The protests were initially peaceful, but on the evening of 1 July around 30 members of the company at Solon, armed with bayonets, attempted to recapture their rifles from the company magazine. The soldiers on guard opened fire, killing two men and wounding another. The incident effectively brought the mutiny to an end, and the mutineers at both Jullundur and Solon were placed under armed guard. Sixty-one men were convicted for their role in the mutiny. Fourteen were sentenced to death by firing squad, but the only soldier whose capital sentence was carried out was Private James Joseph Daly. Daly was considered the leader of the mutiny at Solon and the man responsible for the failed attack on the magazine. On the morning of 2 November 1920 he was executed in Dagshai prison in northern India.
With the exception of one man (who died in prison at Dagshai), by the middle of the following year all of the convicted mutineers had been transferred to prisons in England to serve out the remainder of their sentences. The Connaught Rangers, along with three other Irish regiments, were disbanded in June 1922. Following negotiations between the Irish Free State and the British government, the mutineers were released from prison and returned to Ireland early in 1923. Some enlisted in the National Army, others joined the Garda; many struggled to make a life in post-independence Ireland. Although the mutineers in many cases received rapturous welcomes in their home town, they quickly vanished from the public eye.